Advice on exercise and brain strengthening for older folks has been coming out of the woodwork. As the dementia drug trials bite the dust, small but ambitious studies are being published intent at ranking the value of different styles of workouts for seniors. It is a search for the gold star, a magic bullet for our aging bodies and minds. Maybe the common wisdom is that we have limited time to get things right and we should not waste effort doing just any exercise?
Those of us closer to the leading edge of being a boomer as well as the true seniors may look at bit awry at some of these recommendations. I try to be careful when dispensing my blog level advice on any health related matter. A disclaimer that suggests checking with your physician first before starting or changing a course of exercise seems to be missing from these articles.
Age brings limitations with problems in standing/walking or sometimes a dedicated aversion to certain activities. This one size fits all approach bothers me when I know people who can only do a recumbent bike, have no safe place to walk for 30 minutes or do not like getting wet in pool exercise. Ultimately if you do not like the activity you are doing, you will not keep doing it.
Back to the Well blog in the New York Times. The Health section devotes a fraction of its articles toward seniors. They appear briefly and not always on the front page. So I do not hesitate to share links so you can have the full details. Remember you can often find other gems of information in the lively comment sections.
The first article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/23/well/move/the-best-exercise-for-aging-muscles.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1 is a study of three different types of exercise and their ability to turn back time on a cellular level in the muscles. Remember the importance of mitochondria from biology classes? The choices were weight training, interval training on a stationary bike, (speed up, slow down, speed up) or 30 minutes on a stationary bike combined with weight training. The interval training showed the most dramatic results.
These subjects were supervised, do not try this without clearance from your doctor. I am allowing my own routine of walking hills which requires different levels of exertion to convert to interval work. Maybe I need to pledge to bump up the speed on the gym treadmill here and there. I feel safe doing both of these things.
Another article on Well : https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/29/well/walk-stretch-or-dance-dancing-may-be-best-for-the-brain.html?hpw&rref=health&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region®ion=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0 awards the prize for most likely to keep your brain cognitively fit to time on the dance floor. Not disco but more intricate social dance moves like country or folk.
I was at first skeptical but found another older even more comprehensive study that concluded that learning complex dance steps in a regular social group was the winner for improving mental sharpness. Social dancing won over brisk walking or stretching. Both studies also note benefits to the heart, balance and social quotient.
Obviously being in a group that is learning dances could bring new social connections as well as a bit of shared laughter. I will stick to my Tai Chi class. The 108 movements in sequence challenge my brain and balance accompanied by gentle mellow music. Your fitness routine should be safe and enjoyable, whatever it is. If you want to answer to the beat of your own inner dancer find/form a group class. Whether Rumba or Zumba, you can create your own kind of senior center.